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https://doi.org/10.5194/soil-2019-92
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/soil-2019-92
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: original research article 21 Jan 2020

Submitted as: original research article | 21 Jan 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal SOIL.

Soil fertility along toposequences of the East India Plateau and implications for productivity and sustainability

Peter S. Cornish1, Ashok Kumar2,a, and Sudipta Das2,b Peter S. Cornish et al.
  • 1University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury Campus, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith, NSW, Australia
  • 2Professional Assistance for Development Action, Purulia(PRADAN), West Bengal, India
  • apresent address: TransformingRuralIndia(TRIF), Ranchi, Jharkhand, India
  • bpresent address: Collective for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CInI), Deoghar, Jharkhand, India

Abstract. In common with other undulating landscapes in Asia, rice (Oryza sativa) on the East India Plateau (EIP) was once confined to hydrologic discharge areas or lowlands, but progressive terracing has now allowed rainfed transplanted rice to encroach upon upland recharge areas, with potential effects on both hydrology and soil fertility. Hydrologic variation down the toposequence and its implications for rice production have been well documented, but not the variation in soil fertility. Measurements of surface-soil fertility in seven of 24 EIP Districts were used to evaluate variation between and within small watersheds stratified down the toposequence into six land classes that reflect hydrology and land use (three with rice and three without, 36 fields/watershed). We aimed to provide a basis for future research to improve soil fertility management. Soils overall were acid, with 14 % of fields requiring liming (pH < 5.0) and 44 % requiring further acidification to be managed (pH 5.0–5.4). Organic carbon (OC, mean 0.9 %) and cation exchange capacity (CEC, mean 10.7 (cmolc/kg) were low. Available phosphorus (P) was mostly very low (mean Bray-P 4.3 mg kg−1) and extractable potassium (K) low to marginal (mean 88 mg kg−1). Non-rice soils generally had lower pH, OC and CEC than rice soils, but higher P and K. Amongst rice fields, those higher in the toposequence had lower pH, OC and CEC but more P and K. These results are discussed in the context of nutrient flows in the landscape, leading to the conclusion that terracing uplands has reduced the delivery of sediment-bound P to lowlands where, even with organic P recycling, low inputs of inorganic fertiliser have led soil P to decline and become the primary constraint to yield. Soil K is on the same trajectory. Fertiliser-use must increase substantially to sustain the system, a requirement that will challenge the risk-averse subsistence farmers. Field-specific fertiliser and lime recommendations are needed despite systematic toposequence differences, because of variability between fields within land classes.

Peter S. Cornish et al.

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Peter S. Cornish et al.

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Short summary
We evaluated soil fertility in 7 watersheds on the East India Plateau, where low-yielding rainfed rice is the major crop. Soils are infertile, but little chemical fertiliser is used. Recycling nutrients in manure/compost is insufficient to maintain soil fertility or allow crops to achieve the potential set by rainfall. Fertiliser rates need to increase greatly, notably phosphorus and potassium, which will challenge the risk-averse subsistence farmers. Field-specific fertiliser regimes are needed.
We evaluated soil fertility in 7 watersheds on the East India Plateau, where low-yielding...
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